There’s absolutely nothing better, when you’re in a certain contemplative mood, than treating your senses to high-quality homegrown podcasts in the dark. What else can you do when your bedroom is ninety degrees? Beat the heat and insomnia with some bedtime tea, no lights, and a sonorous voice whispering creepy nothings just for you.
These are listed in no particular order, because the last thing I want is for people to underestimate the power of a show like Dapper Sam’s Foxy Fun Time*.
11. Slate’s The Gist
Maybe it won’t lull you to sleep, but Mike Pesca’s easy friendliness is infectious. You’ll learn something literally every single time you tune in, and you can listen for free on Soundcloud. Topics include anything and everything you’ll want to be interested in. Even better? Episodes are generally quick, and so good that they feel like they should last longer. One To Listen To: Where to Find the Best Stories
10. Love + Radio
This captivating podcast features a mixture of fact and fiction, in the form of interviews and stories centered on a theme. You know, themes like guns, ghosts, secrets, anger, the stuff DRAMA IS MADE OF. Episodes range from twenty to fifty-odd minutes, and the delectable language and delivery make them fly by. Try Out: Hostile Planet. You’re welcome.
9. Welcome To Night Vale
Welcome to Night Vale is a gloriously weird podcast, done as the community radio show of fictional town Night Vale. You know, the friendly desert town where “the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and strange lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.” It’s my go-to when I have insomnia, and what starts out as mildly interesting quirkiness quickly turns into white-knuckled investment in the characters’ lives. All wrapped up in Cecil’s velvety voice. Listen To: Summer Reading Program. Because there really is no better phrase in the English language than “catch the flesh-eating reading bacterium.”
8. The Horror!
Treat your ears to old horror radio stories. Not old-style, real old style. We’re talking stories that originally aired in the thirties, fifties, sixties. Good stuff. Feel the crackle of the radio. Let it seep into you. Let it become you. Try It Out: Two From the Black Mass
7. Fresh Air
Now, hear me out: the programs are full of interesting bits, and it’s NPR so naturally it’ll be soothing. What are you waiting for? Go check it out.
6. The Coffee Break Language Learning Series
Transport yourself back to the muggy, stuffy classrooms of Spanish I (or whatever you took in high school) in quick twenty-minute segments. They’re super-basic and kind of goofy, but honestly, that’s part of the charm. If you’re completely unfamiliar with a language and want to ease yourself in, this is a fun way to do it. It was funny for me personally to listen to the first Spanish episode, just because they had Scottish accents and were speaking with a mainland Spain accent instead of the ones I’m used to here in California. Find It on iTunes. There are a billion of different languages featured, so you’ll find them easily.
5. The Nerdist
I’m kind of a cult member after reading the book (and yes, treating it like a bible), but the Nerdist podcast really does dish up constant infotainment. You know, in interview form. Interview infotainment (new podcast genre?). Chris Hardwick’s engaging and every one of his guests are fascinating. Listen To: Misha Collins (always listen to Misha Collins). Okay, so I’m biased. If you’re not a fan (Misha who?), check out Sir Ian McKellen.
4. Beautiful Places in HD
Technically it’s a video series, although it’s in the “podcast” section of iTunes. Nevertheless, it’s worth your time; each episode is generally under six minutes and each one actually is beautiful. Plus you get the cheesy acoustic guitar background music that sounds like it was ripped straight from your local public access channel. Finally, the narration is so calm that the guy could be on drugs. You need that kind of relaxation in your life.
3. The Drabblecast
This weekly audio fiction show brings “strange stories by strange authors to strange listeners, such as yourself.” Episodes go anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour and a half; each one showcases quality storytelling with quality narration and sound production. Each episode, along with the main story, also includes a drabble (100 words) and a twabble (100 characters). Have A Taste: I really like their recent All Of Our Past Places by Kat Howard.
2. 99% Invisible
Billing itself as “a tiny radio show about design,” this podcast is way too humble. Episodes are around a half hour or shorter, always fascinating, and yes, the narration’s always soothing. I know I’ve said that a lot during this listicle, but I love me some smooth, sonorous voices. Listen To: Sounds Of The Artificial World
1. Here Be Monsters
From premise to production this podcast is stellar. This show explores fear in a different way in each episode, with sound production that always fits the narration perfectly. Episodes are around thirty minutes or less and seem to fly by every time. Try It Out: The much-loved “The Grandmother And The Vine Of The Dead” is popular for a reason, and the trippy episode is perfect for late-night listening.
*Not a real show, unfortunately. Yet.